For the Gophers, the wait to begin construction on new football and basketball practice facilities just got longer.
Athletics department officials hoped the Board of Regents could use next week’s meeting to approve a long-awaited $150 million athletics facilities project, setting up an August groundbreaking.
But Friday, the university announced that the Regents won’t vote on the project until their September meeting.
School officials said the three-month wait for the vote won’t delay the project from being completed by the summer of 2017. But it will push the groundbreaking to at least mid-September, extending uncertainty for recruits.
“Do I want it started in August? Darn right. I’ve said that all along,” Gophers football coach Jerry Kill said. “But at the same time, if you wait a month to make sure you have all the schematics right, then you don’t have to change something midstream.”
The university first unveiled plans for a $190 million “athletics village” in July 2013, with upgrades for several teams. In January, the school streamlined a $150 million portion of the project, fast-tracking the football and basketball facilities, along with a nutrition and academic center that will serve all 720 of its athletes.
So far, $70 million has been raised, with the university still committed to fundraising all the money. Last month, athletic director Norwood Teague said the department was “getting down to the wire” on some significant gifts, adding that he was planning on an August groundbreaking, pending Regents approval.
Teague was unavailable for comment Friday, but senior associate AD Chris Werle said the delay wasn’t money-related.
“We still feel confident that we have the fundraising solution, and as far as going to the board with that, that was not our concern,” Werle said. “Our concern is having schematic designs that [the Regents] can truly respond to and review as well as having a permanent solution for a competition-level track.”
The plans call for the current track to be demolished to make room for a new indoor football facility. The university has not said where a new track would be built or where the track teams would practice in the interim.
In January, a Title IX complaint was filed with the U.S. Department of Education over concerns that Gophers women’s track and cross-country athletes were being displaced and overlooked. That investigation by the Office of Civil Rights remains open.
OCR officials toured Gophers facilities this week with plans to interview Gophers coaches next week. Within the department, there is a strong sense that the investigation has contributed to the project’s delay.
“We certainly are not delaying because of the OCR,” University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler said. “We are delaying because we want a better answer on the track.”
The Board of Regents will set its meeting dates for the next school year Friday, and the September meetings are expected to fall on the 10th and 11th. The July meeting has an abbreviated agenda, and there is no August meeting, so September is the next time the Regents can vote on the facilities project.
“I know Coach [Richard] Pitino and Coach Kill and others are getting anxious, and it’s OK to be anxious,” Regent Dean Johnson said. “But just like we know Christmas comes in December, this project is going to happen.”
John and Nancy Lindahl recently gave $17 million to the university, with $12 million designated for the athletics facilities project.
“It’s kind of unfortunate to move [the vote] back until the next meeting,” Lindahl said. “But it’s a good, sound decision. I’m totally confident the Board will vote on it in September, and we’ll proceed as planned.”
Kill has been showing blueprints to recruits, reeling in several big commitments, including Eden Prairie linebacker Carter Coughlin, who turned down offers from Oregon and Ohio State. Rivals.com and 247Sports.com have the Gophers ranked 27th nationally in their Class of 2016 recruiting rankings.
Kill explained that there’s been a lot of back-and-forth over the designs of the new facility, but he said he’s certain there will be a groundbreaking in September.
“It’s not a money deal at all, from what I’ve been told, and I believe that because I’m a part of the fundraising,” he said. “It’s more about the design. You want to get it right because we’re only going to do it once.”
Staff writer Amelia Rayno contributed to this report.